An Artist's Flair, an Engineer's Precision - Jewels of the Kimberley

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An Artist’s Flair, an Engineer’s Precision

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Creating timeless jewellery is an art form.

We speak with Jewels of the Kimberley director, Jodi Penfold, about intricate techniques, pearl farming and why she loves diamonds.

 

Jodi Penfold remembers the first piece of jewellery she designed, a pendant for her best friend’s birthday. “I didn’t have much money back then, so I made it from titanium and silver,” she recalls. “It was simple and modern. Geometric lines. She still wears it now.”

It’s a fond memory, even if that pendant is now one piece in the thousands Jodi has created as designer, creator and director of her Broome-based business, Jewels of the Kimberley.

It’s a fitting name. When asked what inspires her most, Jodi replies instantly, “My surroundings. The Kimberley region, with its vast landscapes, intense colours and textures, is an endless source of inspiration … We are so lucky to have the world’s rarest and highest quality diamonds, the world’s best pearls and a soil rich in gold right on our doorstep. It takes ‘locally made’ to an entirely new level.”

Hands-on expertise

Jodi took a practical route into jewellery design. As a third-year apprentice, she started her own business, signing a “handshake contract” with an elderly travelling salesman of Cook Island black pearls and Australian sapphires. In those pre-YouTube days, she researched skills in books in order to create the designs, fuelling a desire to learn as much about the craft and its techniques as possible. This motivation saw her jumping on a flight to Broome to take her experience from the page to real life, grading pearls.

“I have fond memories of just how raw pearl farming can be,” she says, going on to recount the incongruity of “wading waist-deep in a crocodile-infested creek” while holding three million dollars’ worth of pearls in her hands.

Following her pearl adventures, Jodi went on to study gemmology, which she says has been instrumental in learning about care of gemstones and “being able to confidently push them to their limit in both design and manufacture”.

 

Diamond doyenne

Over the years, Jodi has developed a particularly fondness for Australian diamonds, although she admits to thinking that white diamonds were “a bit boring” before the Kimberley showed her the “rainbow of hues diamonds have to offer … from the rarest pinks to fiery oranges and rich, deep greens”.

“I love the hardness of diamonds,” she explains. “As a diamond-setter, I can literally hit them with a hammer; as a jeweller I can heat them until they glow red-hot to fuse metals together to form designs. I would never dream of using these techniques on any other gem.”

Her passion for the gemstone led her to an exclusive diamond-setting school in Antwerp, under the tuition of a fastidious, unsmiling Russian.

“Over 200 students audition each year to attend and only 10 are chosen to attend … I enjoyed the fact that near enough is not good enough.”

The late nights and weekend practice was all worth it in the end, she confirms: “I completed my course at the top of my class, and even managed to make my teacher smile!”

As her skillset expands, there is one thing that is unchanging: “To me, jewellery must be timeless, a piece that can be passed from old to young and still be in style.“

That doesn’t mean she’s impervious to trends, though. She expresses a fascination for rustic or Earth diamonds, particularly popular with modern brides.

“Each one so unique with different characteristics, some with translucency, others more opaque,” she explains.
“Most feature a distinctive salt-and-pepper matrix … reminiscent of staring into a starry night sky.” She also points out that you can get them for a “fraction of the cost” of their refined counterparts.

Jodi’s passion for honing her skills has now come full circle as she trains her own apprentice. It hasn’t always been easy to find a mentor, but 20 years into her career, she can honestly say that it was worth “sticking out the hard times” to be able to work so closely with the inimitable Australian jewels of the remote region she calls home.

 

You can read this article inside Signature Luxury Travel and Style Magazine, Current Edition – 2018